Completion Not Competition
“To be humble is to be so sure of one's self and one's mission that one can forgo calling excessive attention to one's self and status. And even more pointedly, to be humble is to revel in the accomplishment or potential of others, especially those with whom one identifies and to whom one is linked organically. ...
Humility means two things. One, a capacity for self-criticism. ...The second feature is allowing others to shine, affirming others, empowering and enabling others. Those who lack humility are dogmatic and egotistical. That masks a deep sense of insecurity. They feel the success of others is at the expense of their own fame and glory. If criticism is put forward, they are not able to respond to it. And this produces, of course, an authoritarian sensibility.”
Cornel West in dialog with bell hooks in The Other Side, (Mar.-Apr. 1992). Christianity Today, Vol. 38, no. 5.
Last week I went up to Creation Music Festival with Seth and Nathan Cafarchio on Tuesday to set everything up
While they both came home, I remained at Creation by myself
I had been looking forward to having the rest of Tuesday and most of Wednesday to myself
I had planned a spiritual retreat where I could pray, read God’s Word, worship, and listen to God’s voice
I’ve been wrestling through my own feelings about ministry success and God used the spiritual retreat and a couple of the artists to speak to me
As I was reading commentaries on Wednesday in preparation for the message, I was particularly challenged by one statement
“Everything good you’ve received, whether its financial prosperity, physical abilities, or ministry success, comes from heaven . . . the good hand of God is the reason for any success in ministry. Big buildings, growing budgets, and increased attendance don’t measure the success of a ministry. The results are not ours, they’re God’s, and he has the authority to do with us what he desires. Jesus said to his disciples, ‘I will build my church’ (Matt. 16:18).” [Carter and Wredberg, Christ-Centered Exposition: Exalting Jesus in John, 72]
I work hard to try and have a successful ministry here at Idaville Church, but in the process I have neglected my family
Mike Donehey (lead singer for Tenth Avenue North) and Matt Hammitt (former lead singer for Sanctus Real) both shared stories of how their wives encouraged them to step back from the busy touring life to be with their families
Mike said he was scared that if he stepped back and didn’t continue to push for more and more engagements that the band would die, but they are still around and are releasing a new album in August 2019 (they cut their engagements in half from around 165 a year to around 80)
God knew that this is what I needed to hear and allowed that theme to come through loud and clear at Creation
I’ve been trying to compete with Jesus by becoming greater and doing more, instead of completing what God has called me to do, so Jesus becomes greater
I have to come to the realization that the success of Idaville Church doesn’t rest with me, but with Jesus
I have to faithfully point people to Jesus
It’s difficult in our culture to think about stepping back from a busy schedule
Success in our culture is all about pushing harder and farther than the next person
Many times we sacrifice church attendance or service in the church, so we can continue to pursue other activities
Our goal should be eternal and not temporal
Are the things we’re pursuing pointing people to Jesus?
The 80/20 rule
Most of us have heard about the 80/20 rule
It goes like this, 20% of the people do 80% of the work
That is especially true in the church
Sometimes the 20% have to humbly step back and leave a void, so others will step forward to serve
I know that some of us at Idaville Church serve faithfully and in multiple capacities, because we love the church and want to see it succeed, but those individuals are potentially in the same boat as me – they are competing with Jesus by becoming great and doing more, instead of completing what God has called them to do so Jesus becomes greater
John the Baptist didn’t have the problem of competing with Jesus, because he understood what his role was in God’s plan. He knew exactly what he was called, by God, to do and he completed his task. We’ll see today in John 3:22-36 that John the Evangelist wants us to understand that . . .
BIG IDEA – When we compete with Jesus, we become greater – but when we complete for Jesus, He becomes greater.
GOD (John 3:22-36)
Man Exalted (vv. 22-26)
Jesus’ baptism (v. 22)
“After this” is an unspecified time period
We have to remember that John the Evangelist is not writing in a chronological order, but rather he is providing information that will help to accomplish his goal and purpose in writing
John 20:31, But these things are written that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that by believing you may have life in his name.
In a general sense we can definitely say that what we are about read took place after Jesus’ baptism and His ministry in Jerusalem
The NIV does an excellent job of translating the meaning of the original Greek
The NASB, which is a more word-for-word translation of the Greek, translates it this way, After these things Jesus and his disciples came into the land of Judea, and there He was spending time with them and baptizing.
That literal translation makes it sound like Jesus had just enter the land of Judea and yet Jerusalem is in the land of Judea
It seems as though Jesus and His disciples have left the urban center of Jerusalem and are spending some time in the rural areas of Judea
The verb is in the singular, so it would seem as though Jesus is the One who is doing the baptizing, but John clears that up for us at the beginning of the next chapter
John 4:1-2, The Pharisees heard that Jesus was gaining and baptizing more disciples than John, although in fact it was not Jesus who baptized, but his disciples.
I don’t believe this was by chance, but by divine design
Imagine for a moment that we could say we were baptized by Jesus, the Messiah
In our humanness we would use that as a way to express our spiritual pride
“Well, you may have been baptized by . . . but I was baptized by Jesus!”
God, in His divine sovereignty, stopped that from being a problem or temptation in the lives of the believers in the 1st Century
Jesus wasn’t the One who was doing the baptizing – it was His disciples
What kind of baptism was Jesus’ disciples doing?
We know that John the Baptist’s baptism was a baptism of repentance, in anticipation of the coming Messiah
This would also have to be the case with Jesus’ baptism by His disciples
Jesus had not yet fulfilled His purpose on earth – to give His life as a ransom for many (Mark 10:45)
He hadn’t died on the cross, been buried, and come alive again, providing eternal life for all who believe
So, the baptism that Jesus is doing is not what we call “believers baptism,” it would have been a baptism of repentance, anticipating Jesus passion
It was also not the baptism of the Holy Spirit, that John the Baptist had mentioned earlier in this Gospel – that would come on the Day of Pentecost
The baptism that Jesus’ disciples were conducting was simply continuing to point people to Jesus
John’s baptism (vv. 23-24)
John was continuing his ministry of pointing people to Jesus and preparing them for the day when Jesus would fulfill His purpose on earth
His ministry was not completed, even though He had already identified Jesus as the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world
Jesus was so new in this 1st Century scene that some people were probably skeptical about Him
They were familiar with John’s ministry and therefore people were constantly coming to be baptized (Jn. 3:23)
We know, from this story, that not every one of John’s disciples had begun to follow Jesus – they were committed and zealous for John’s ministry
For the original readers of John’s Gospel the location of Aenon near Salim would have identified a specific location that they were familiar with
Unfortunately for us, that specific location has been lost
We can only speculate about two potential locations [show the map]
Eight miles southeast of Beth Shean (Scythopolis)
Four miles southeast of Shechem, farther south
Both locations were within Samaria and had multiple springs surrounding them, so the reference to the place having plenty of water, would fit
“Aenon” is a Semitic term that means “springs”
“Salim” comes from the Hebrew word for “peace” (Shalom)
John the Evangelist helps us to understand that Jesus and John the Baptist were baptizing and ministering simultaneously
The Synoptic Gospels (Matthew, Mark, and Luke) only record Jesus’ Galilean ministry, after John the Baptist had been arrested
Mark 1:14, After John was put in prison, Jesus went into Galilee, proclaiming the good news of God.
They do not record any of Jesus’ ministry, in Judea, prior to that time
So, John the Evangelist includes this side note to help his readers understand that there was a period of time when Jesus and John the Baptist ministered simultaneously in the land of Judea
This side note prevents any attempt to say that the Bible contradicts itself – that the Synoptic Gospels disagree with John’s Gospel
John is relaying a story that happened prior to the stories recorded in the Synoptic Gospels
John has set the stage for the argument and John the Baptist’s disciple’s concern
Argument (v. 25)
A certain Jew
The NIV translates the Greek for a Jew correctly, because it is in the singular
It was not a group of Jews, as some have speculated
Unfortunately we are not able to identify who this Jew was, but that’s fine because that’s not the focus of this text
In fact, what they are arguing about isn’t the focus of the text either
John the Evangelist tells us that they are discussing the matter of ceremonial washing
“Baptism such as this was commonplace for converted Gentiles entering Judaism since it represented a spiritual threshold the convert was crossing. Ceremonial washings were also common among Jews who cleansed themselves for service or prayer. But baptism for Jews did not make sense. Was this a ceremonial cleansing? Was it a threshold? Certainly these questions stand behind the interrogation of John reported at the beginning of all four Gospels.” [Burge, The NIV Application Commentary, John, 121]
There was obviously something in the argument that uncovered some frustration that John’s disciples had, concerning Jesus’ ministry of baptism
So, they go to John the Baptist to share their concerns with him
Disciple’s zeal (v. 26)
The use of “Teacher” here is not out of place, since it was still a general term in the 1st Century
It eventually became a specific term only used for those who completed the vigorous rabbinic training
John the Baptist’s disciples followed him and his teachings
Separating themselves from Jesus’ ministry
Notice how John the Baptist’s disciples frame their concern when they approach him
They most likely knew Jesus by name, but they say, that man – they don’t even want to acknowledge Him by name
Who was with you – Jesus was with John and not them
The one you testified about – it was John’s testimony about Jesus and not theirs
He is baptizing
They do not, in any way, want to be associated with Jesus and His ministry
They are totally committed to John and his baptizing ministry
They were definitely not like Andrew and John who understood who Jesus was and began to follow Him when John the Baptist said a second time “Look, the Lamb of God!” (John 1:35)
PRINCIPLE #1 – God wants us to follow Jesus, not people
That’s what these disciples of John the Baptist were doing
They were fully committed to following John and refused to follow Jesus as a result
Their jealousy and resentment at Jesus’ growing ministry blinded them from seeing and hearing the truth of John the Baptist’s message – Jesus is the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world (John 1:29)
“Disciples of teachers are often more zealous for their teachers’ perspectives than the teachers themselves, and thus history is replete with many examples of the excesses of disciples, as in the case of the Arminians and Calvinists.” [Borchert, The New American Commentary, John 1-11, 190]
The former State Director for CEF of Indiana had almost made it through her studies at Dallas Theological Seminary without being asked if she held to the Calvinist or Arminianist doctrine of salvation
On graduation day she was cornered by her fellow classmates and asked to choose
Her response was not original to her, but is profound, “I pray like a Calvinist like it’s all up to God, and I work like an Arminianist like it’s all up to me.”
When I’m asked that question about the doctrine of salvation, I normally respond by saying, “I’m a Christian, I follow Jesus. Calvin was human and fallible. Arminius was human and fallible. Jesus is God and perfect.”
We have an incredible history as United Brethren in Christ
William Otterbein, one of the two founding pastors of this denomination modeled humility and pointing people to Jesus, just like John the Baptist
“He published no books and few of his works are available . . . For some reason, perhaps known only to himself, it was reported that all his personal papers and notes were burned. According to Drury, John Hildt reported that this burning occurred in his presence during the last year of Otterbein’s life.” [Fetters, Trials and Triumphs: History of the Church of the United Brethren in Christ, 75-76]
While we don’t know the reasoning behind why he did this, I would like to think that it was because he was not about building his own kingdom, but the kingdom of God
He didn’t want people pointing to his words, but to the Word of God
Who are we following?
Every one of us follows someone or something
Some of us follow the Yankees, while others follow the Orioles or some other baseball team
Some of us follow the Steelers, while others follow the Eagles (the Redskins are pretty popular too)
Some of us follow Dr. David Jeremiah, Beth Moore, Greg Laurie, Charles Stanley, Andy Stanley, Chuck Swindoll, Craig Groeschel, Rick Warren, Max Lucado and the list goes on and on
When I first came to Idaville, there were several messages where I said that if you are coming to church to hear me preach, you are coming for the wrong reason
We should be coming to church to learn more about Jesus
But grow in the grace and knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ (2 Peter 3:18)
So whether I’m here or another Pastor is here, we should be coming to church to learn more about Jesus
Paul had to set the Corinthian church straight
Read 1 Corinthians 1:10-17
Read 1 Corinthians 3:1-9
Paul was saying that he, Apollos, Cephas, and any other preacher of the Gospel should be pointing people to Jesus and not themselves
My Next Step Today Is To: Make sure that I am following Jesus and not another human being.
The disciples of John the Baptist who came to him with their concern, were following a human being and not Jesus, which caused them to exaggerate
In their frustration and concern they overstate reality
Everyone is going to him (John 3:26b)
We know that’s not true, because John the Evangelist stated in verse 23 that John was also baptizing in Aenon near Salim, and people were constantly coming to be baptized
When things aren’t going our way, or we don’t like a certain thing or a certain person, we tend to exaggerate as well
“Nobody likes . . . (sushi, spinach, lima beans, etc.)”
“Everyone likes . . . (hymns, worship songs, etc.)”
“No one likes . . . (a particular person)”
“Everyone thinks that . . . (idea, vision, goal, or direction) is wrong.”
Many times we use those kinds of exaggerations to manipulate the situation, so it will go in our favor or so that things will change to accommodate our preferences
When it comes to spiritual things, I believe that many times God’s trying to change us, but we don’t want to change
John the Baptist’s disciples were comfortable with his teachings and his ministry of baptism, so they didn’t want to make a change
Who should we follow?
“We’re supposed to read this statement not as a question about baptism but about authority. John the Baptist’s disciples are wondering who has the authority. Who should men be following?” [Carter and Wredberg, 70]
It’s also probable that John the Baptist’s disciples were wanting to know what he was going to do about Jesus’ ministry of baptism gaining ground (Jesus was “stealing” John’s ministry)
What we see in verses 27-30 is a humility that is rare in our culture
John does not try to grab fame or authority
He doesn’t try to compete with Jesus
John points to Jesus and explains that he is completing the task that God had given him
Jesus Exalted (vv. 27-30)
John’s response (vv. 27-28)
“God has given me a specific task to accomplish here on earth”
He can’t do more than what God has given him to do and he certainly shouldn’t do less
“The principle he enunciated is that a ‘God-sent’ one is not self-oriented or self-serving but is one who acknowledges the ‘giveness’ of life from ‘heaven’.” [Borchert, 191]
His disciples should have known and understood what his task was
He hadn’t hidden it from them
In fact he probably stated it, to them, more times than John the Evangelist records in this Gospel
John the Baptist tells them that they can testify to his God-given task, because he has mentioned it so often
“I am not the Christ, but am sent ahead of him.” (John 3:28)
There came a man who was sent from God; his name was John. He came as a witness to testify concerning that light, so that through him all men might believe. He himself was not the light; he came only as a witness to the light. (John 1:6-8)
His task was to be the messenger sent ahead of the Messiah
He used an illustration, that would have been familiar to them, to help them understand his God-given role
John’s illustration (vv. 29-30)
Everyone would have understood the various roles of the wedding party
Bride belongs to the bridegroom
This is a significant truth, especially in the ancient near east
“There is good evidence that in ancient Sumerian and Babylonian law the best man was absolutely prohibited from marrying the bride. The influence of this view on the Old Testament period is probably to be traced in Judges 14-15, where even the Philistines recognize the rightness of Samson’s grievance. If this perspective, mediated through the Old Testament, descends as far as John the Baptist, then the Baptist is saying that he is ‘the last who could compete with the bridegroom, for under no circumstances is he allowed to marry the bride.’” [Carson, The Pillar New Testament Commentary, The Gospel According to JOHN, 212]
When we compete with Jesus, we become greater.
“Those who win the Church over to themselves rather than to Christ faithlessly violate the marriage which they ought to honour.” [Calvin cited by Gangel, Holman New Testament Commentary, John, 59]
But, John the Baptist is saying that he is not trying to compete with Jesus
He is the best man, the friend who attends the bridegroom
Best man (friend)
The role of the best man in the 1st Century was to prepare everything for the wedding
He would make sure the bride arrived for the wedding on time
He also made sure all of the arrangements were made in advance of the day
The best man was also the one who stood outside the marriage tent (chamber) as the bridegroom and bride consummated their marriage [Borchert, 191]
He would listen for the shout of the bridegroom signaling the successful union between he and his bride [Borchert, 192]
The best man’s joy came from hearing the bridegroom’s voice
That meant the bridegroom had arrived
It also meant that the best man had completed his task
John was joyful about completing his task of preparing the way for Jesus
“The rising prominence of Jesus, as upsetting as it may have been to some of John’s disciples, floods John himself with surpassing joy, because that was exactly what he himself had worked for.” [Carson, 212]
When we complete for Jesus, He becomes greater.
PRINCIPLE #2 – Our joy should come from completing what God has given us to do.
What has God given you to do in His kingdom?
Are you faithfully completing that task for Him?
Has that task become something that you are doing for your own glory and recognition?
Are you able and willing to accomplish that God-given task without self-recognition?
Does that task bring you joy, simply because it is being done for Jesus?
My Next Step Today Is To: Find joy in faithfully completing my God-given task(s).
Perhaps you’ve lost the joy in serving the Lord faithfully
Maybe your God-given task feels more like a burden
That can change today
Ask the Lord to renew your joy in serving Him
PRINCIPLE #3 – God’s desire for His people is that they decrease as Jesus increases.
“It is said of the pioneer missionary, William Carey, that when he was close to death he turned to a friend and said, ‘When I am gone, don’t talk about William Carey; talk about William Carey’s Savior. I desire that Christ alone might be magnified.” [Gangel, 59]
“I spent one summer in the mountains of Wyoming. The camp I was at was up on a mountain, a solid twenty-five minutes from the closest small town. When the sun went down, the moon and stars began to light up the sky. There were no city lights for them to compete with – no haze or smog – just cool, clear mountain air. As night deepened, the intensity of the stars and the moon grew. I was amazed at how bright they were. We would lie out under the stars and enjoy the wonders of the night sky. But every morning the sun would come up, and the stars and moon, as bright as they were, would start to fade. When the sun appeared, the stars were unnecessary. John the Baptist was a star, but when the Son came, the star faded. ‘It’s OK,’ John declared in essence. ‘Follow Jesus; he’s here now.’” [Carter and Wredberg, 74-75]
“When we evaluate everything based on what we like and dislike, we’ve lost our purpose. Next time you’re tempted to complain, ask this question: Am I complaining because the glory of Jesus is decreasing, or is it about me? Jesus must increase, but it will only happen as we – our wants, desires, and likes – decrease.” [Carter and Wredberg, 74]
Decreasing so Jesus can increase
When we compete with Jesus, we become greater – but when we complete for Jesus, He becomes greater.
Are there areas in your life where you need to decrease so Jesus can increase?
Are you competing with Jesus instead of completing for Him?
It’s easy to get caught up in the comparing and competing game, even within the church
We compare our church building to other church buildings
We compare our pastor to other pastors
We compare our children and youth ministry to other church’s children and youth ministries
We compare our worship and music to other church’s worship and music
“We would do well to notice that envy or jealousy over someone else’s popularity, especially in ministry, can never advance God’s kingdom but only deteriorate our spiritual lives.” [Gangel, 58]
When we play the compare and compete game, we find that we are not content with our church
Then it is very easy to speak negatively about our church with family and friends
When we do that we’re actually hurting our church instead of helping it, because those family and friends aren’t going to want to come to a church that isn’t unified
Pray and serve
The solution to comparing and competing is praying and serving
We should be praying that God will change our attitudes and that God will prosper His church – that He will provide spiritual growth, salvations, baptisms, finances, children, youth, young adults, older adults, etc.
Pray that Jesus will build His church
It’s one thing to find fault, but it’s another thing to provide solutions by getting involved and serving
My Next Step Today Is To: Pray that God will change my attitude(s), and that He will allow Idaville Church to prosper as I serve Him by serving the church.
When we compete with Jesus, we become greater – but when we complete for Jesus, He becomes greater.
Some scholars believe the final verses of chapter 3 are John the Evangelist’s commentary on the story of John the Baptist and his disciples (I tend to agree with that viewpoint)
Commentary (vv. 31-36)
Jesus’ authority [sovereignty/deity] (vv. 31-32)
John highlights Jesus’ authority, deity, and sovereignty
Jesus is above all, because He comes from above
Jesus testifies about what He has seen and heard in heaven
Unfortunately not every one accepts His testimony
It’s interesting to note that John uses the phrase, but no one accepts his testimony
I don’t know if this is in contrast to what John the Baptist’s disciples said about everyone is going to him (John 3:26)
We certainly know that, not everyone rejected Jesus’ testimony, because His disciples were baptizing people
I like the NLT’s translation of the verse, He testifies about what he has seen and heard, but how few believe what he tells them! (John 3:32)
“Enter through the narrow gate. For wide is the gate and broad is the road that leads to destruction, and many enter through it. But small is the gate and narrow the road that leads to life, and only a few find it.” (Matthew 7:13-14)
In verses 34 and 35 we see that Jesus speaks the words of God, because God has given Him the Spirit without limit and God has put everything in His hands
This is significant, because God gave the Spirit to the prophets of old for a specific time
But, with Jesus, He gives the Holy Spirit to Him without limit
This is important, because eventually Jesus will be baptizing, not with water, but with the Holy Spirit
The fact that God has put everything in Jesus’ hands points to His authority and sovereignty
He also expresses how finite human beings are
The one who is from the earth belongs to the earth, and speaks as one from the earth (John 3:31b)
We can only speak about heaven from what God has revealed to us through His Word
We don’t have infinite knowledge or understanding of God and heaven
Humanity responds in one of two ways
Humanity’s response (vv. 33-36)
When a person accepts Jesus’ testimony a couple of things happen
They certify that God is truthful
God is truthful – He cannot lie
If we claim we have not sinned, we make him out to be a liar and his word has no place in our lives (1 John 1:10)
They have eternal life
The second response that humanity can choose is rejection
A person can choose to reject Jesus as God’s plan to provide eternal life
God has given us a free will
He does not force His plan on us, but offers it freely to those who believe
Anyone can choose to believe that there is another way to have eternal life, but they will only deceive themselves
Jesus answered, “I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.” (John 14:6)
Those who reject Jesus as God’s plan for eternal life will not see life
God’s wrath remains on those individuals
“As in verse 18, the point is not that the disobedient are now suddenly condemned by a vengeful God, but, on the contrary, that their spiritual condition and their relation to God remains unchanged.” [Michaels, The New International Commentary on the New Testament, The Gospel of JOHN, 228]
This goes back to Paul’s statement in Romans 3:23 that all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God – we are all born sinners
Our spiritual state doesn’t change, from birth, until we choose to believe in Jesus
Our goal should be the same as John the Baptist – becoming less, so Jesus becomes greater
When we compete with Jesus, we become greater – but when we complete for Jesus, He becomes greater.
When we understand this truth and begin to live in light of that truth, others around us will take notice
We’ll see the body of believers here at Idaville Church living in love and unity, and Jesus will build His church
“A true leader is committed to the cause, and does not become the cause. Staying personally dedicated to the cause can become extremely difficult, particularly if the cause succeeds. A subtle change in thinking can overtake the leader of a successful ministry. He or she begins ‘needing’ certain things to carry on the ministry--things that were not needed earlier.
I admire Mother Teresa, who decided after winning the Nobel Prize that she would not go to accept any more recognition because it interfered with her work. She knew she was not in the business of accepting prizes; she was in the business of serving the poor of Calcutta. She maintained her dedication to the cause by refusing unrelated honors.
Fred Smith, Learning To Lead. (Christianity Today, 1986), p. 29.